Socceroos v Japan preview

Monday, June 12 – 3.00pm is D-Day for the Socceroos, almost eight months to the day that Australia won its way through the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. The match against its new Asian rival Japan in Kaiserslautern is likely to be the decisive clash of Australia’s three first round games.

Monday, June 12 - 3.00pm is D-Day for the Socceroos, almost eight months to the day that Australia won its way through the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. The match against its new Asian rival Japan in Kaiserslautern is likely to be the decisive clash of Australia-s three first round games.

The importance of the game is not lost on anybody, particularly the players, who know that a win against the Japanese will go a long way to helping them qualify for the second round. Given that pre-tournament favourite Brazil is in the group and odds on to finish on top, the Japan and Croatia matches look to be the crucial ones.

Australia is considered the underdog of the group, given its world-ranking of 42 and its lack of history in the tournament, with just one previous appearance in the World Cup finals some 32 years ago in 1974, when it was played in the then West Germany.

However Australia-s squad is full of seasoned international players, who all play with big European clubs and so big matches and big tournaments are nothing new to the players.

Given that most predict Brazil to waltz through the group with relative ease, it looks a race to finish second. That-s not to say that Australia won-t be going out to try and beat the Brazilians as they did in their last start against them at the 2001 Confederations Cup, a 1-0 victory, but there is no doubt the first and last games will targeted specifically as the two games of most importance, in order to advance to the second round.

To win the opening game will not only give Australia three very valuable points, it will also give the players a massive lift in confidence going into the second match against Brazil and then against Croatia.

A draw will not be disastrous, but leaves them with an uphill battle to make sure they have to beat Croatia in the final game. A loss will make it extremely hard and most likely mean they have to pick up wins in its final two group games - a daunting task if there ever was one.

Coming into the game, both teams are in reasonable form with impressive results in the last couple of weeks.

Japan-s preparation is noticeably more extensive than Australia-s, mainly due to the fact that a lot of the Japanese squad play their football in Japan and can get together for matches more regularly. Since the start of the year they have played nine games, for four wins, three draws and two losses.

Upon arriving in Germany, they have played two games, with the draw against Germany the most notable result.

The match against the Germans showed what a good team they are, but also highlighted some weaknesses. They led 2-0 with just 15 minutes left to play, playing some brilliant, quick attacking football. However they conceded two goals from set pieces in the dying stages of the game.

However while that result received rave reviews, the next one a 1-0 win over European lightweight Malta did not.

Australia likewise has not any of its four preparation matches including a 1-0 win over European Champions Greece and a 1-1 draw with The Netherlands after playing most of the second half with only 10-men.

Its final match was not also one of Australia-s better performances, but the 3-1 win gave an opportunity for some players to try and force their way into the starting team for the Japan game.

Hiddink though is likely to play with the players that did the job against The Netherlands, which was the real barometer to our chances in the World Cup.

This being the case, the only real spot up for grabs is likely to be that of Luke Wilkshire, who was sent off in the game and will face a tough ask to get back in the team, especially with the likes of Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell getting back to fitness and Josip Skoko experience to also come into calculations.

The midfield, as is the case with most games, is the real key to who wins this match, with both sides possessing influential players that can turn the course of any game.

Vince Grella has become a vital part in the Guus Hiddink system and his ability to nullify the opposition-s best attacking midfielders, in Japan-s case Hidetoshi Nakata, could be crucial if Australia is to win. However Nakata is not the only player they will have to watch with Celtic-s Shunsuke Nakamura also an outstanding player, as is Shinji Ono.

The key for Australia is to slow the Japanese play down, who like to play a high tempo and fast game with quick movement between defence and attack, led by their fleet-footed midfielders. By shutting them down and not allowing room to move, you will effectively nullify much of their game plan.

Up front the Japanese have a few problems with injury concerns over Takahara and Yanagisawa. Both are expected to play, with Takahara in form after scoring twice against Germany.

Definitely missing from the match is starting defender Kaji, who was injured in the clash with Germany. They have plenty of experience, but if there is supposedly any weakness in the Japan team it-s said to be at the back.

Viduka-s size, strength and skill on the ball could make him a real handful and if he gets the support from his attacking midfielders in Marco Bresciano, Cahill, Kewell, Mile Sterjovski and Jason Culina.

And just to add insult off the bench, Hiddink can call on the likes of John Aloisi, who may get a start if he decides to go with two up front, and perhaps Josh Kennedy, whose height makes a totally different threat.

Defensively Hiddink has experimented with two different formations. At the centre of either formation are Craig Moore and Lucas Neill and they will either be supported by Brett Emerton and Scott Chipperfield as overlapping wingbacks in a back four, or by Chipperfield or possibly Tony Popovic in a back three, with Emerton playing more as a right-sided midfielder.

It-s touch and go for the goalkeeping spot, although it was hard to fault Mark Schwarzer-s performance against Holland and given he is the incumbent, might have been enough to keep his spot.

One thing that might come into play is the 3.00pm kick-off and it has been noticeable in the games so far that the heat has had an effect on the players. Australia played Holland in fairly hot conditions at exactly the same time and they ran out the game well with 10 men. It appeared the hard work that Hiddink had put the boys through had paid off and come the latter stages of the game, this could prove telling.

The other noticeable thing that is in Australia-s favour is that the Japanese seem overly concerned about the physical approach of Australia, with recent comments that we are a dirty team, sensing of desperation to try and get in the ear of the referee.

Australia play the game hard and never shirk a tackle, which sometimes upsets opponents, but Japan-s players are already thinking about it and worried about it, then they might be psychologically beaten already.

Let-s hope that goes for the scoreboard as well.